Graphics pen tablets, cordless mice and mice without vulnerable mechanical parts have all been available in their own right for a number of years. Wacom, the well-known German developer of graphics input devices, has combined all three features in its new Graphire product. In the box you get a tablet which hooks up to the computer via either an ordinary serial interface or a USB port, plus a cordless mouse and a pen stylus. No batteries or separate power supply are required.
The Wacom mouse looks superficially similar to Microsoft’s standard Intellimouse, complete with a scroll wheel which doubles as the middle of three mouse buttons. Left-handers will be pleased to hear that the mouse is symmetrical in design and the buttons can be programmed to suit. The tablet senses the mouse’s position, so there is no need for a mechanical ball mechanism. As there is nothing to clog up with dust and dirt, this promises to be a very consistent and reliable device.
For graphics work the supplied pen stylus features a 512-level pressure-sensitive writing tip plus a pressure-sensitive eraser on the other end. The stylus also incorporates a 2-function rocker switch which defaults to left and right mouse button functions, but which can be programmed as desired. Both the mouse and the stylus are beautifully designed, but they seemed to be made from a rather cheap plastic. The tablet itself incorporates a small light to indicate that power is on, while at the top end is a holder conveniently located for the stylus.
Although the physical size of the tablet is comparable to an average mouse mat, only an area 90mm by 130mm in the centre of the mat, and bounded by thin markings on the tablet itself, is sensitive to either the pen or the mouse. This is fine when you use the stylus, as its tip maps directly relative to its position on the screen. However, when you use the mouse its position is off-set every time you lift and reposition it on the “mat”. It’s all too easy to end up with the mouse straying off the sensitive portion of the tablet. Although the mouse has Teflon feet its action is not as smooth as a conventional mouse running on a good-quality mouse mat. On the other hand, we had no complaints regarding the stylus, although anyone not used to one will find the experience very different to that of using a mouse.
Our review version employed a USB interface. We queried the speed setting on the driver as we felt that even on the maximum speed setting the mouse action was a trifle sluggish. We also noted that during periods of intense disk activity the pointer action would freeze out momentarily. A refreshingly frank reply from Wacom agreed that the pointer speed was not adequate and they were working on improving the driver.
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